The possibility of Air Force playing sports this fall remained alive Monday, even as its conference wiped out all competitions.
The Mountain West postponed its fall sports season, citing challenges presented by the coronavirus. Football, volleyball and all other sports are on hold, left with only the possibility of competing in the spring.
No determination has been made for winter sports.
This puts the Colorado Springs-based conference that counts Air Force and Colorado State among its members in company with the Mid-American Conference, which canceled its season this past weekend. The Pac-12 and Big Ten reportedly intend to do the same, even as the Southeastern Conference, the Sun Belt and several others have remained firm in their plans to play.
There is a groundswell in support of teams playing through COVID-19. President Donald Trump tweeted Monday that “student-athletes have been working too hard for their season to be canceled.” Nationwide, players have pleaded a similar case.
Still, momentum continues in the direction of cancellation. Old Dominion canceled its season Monday. UConn did within the past week. The Ivy League is out for fall competitions. And even the Mountain West took less than a week to jump from pushing its start date back three weeks to wiping out the fall season altogether.
“We were hopeful we could carefully and responsibly conduct competition as originally scheduled with essential protocols in place,” Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson said in a statement. “However, numerous external factors and unknowns outside our control made this difficult decision necessary. I fully understand the impact of this outcome on our student-athletes, coaches, administrators and staff who work so hard daily to play the sports we all love, and I share in their disappointment. We will continue to navigate this pandemic together, overcome the obstacles and return to intercollegiate athletics at the earliest opportunity.”
Colorado College women's soccer also saw its season postponed, as it has competed in the Mountain West since 2014.
But for Air Force, this doesn’t extinguish hope for fall competition.
The academy, like Army and Navy, considers athletics a key part of the task of developing officers. All cadets are at Air Force, and on Monday the new class of freshmen completed basic training. So, as that mission continues, so too might sports.
“Air Force will continue to work closely with the NCAA and Mountain West on next steps because the physical mission is fundamental to our 47-month cadet development experience and competitive athletics and physical fitness are key components of developing leaders of character for our Air and Space Forces, even in the COVID-19 environment,” Falcons athletic director Nathan Pine said in a statement. “I’m pleased that Air Force will have the opportunity to continue to explore competitions against Army and Navy if conditions allow as we have similar physical missions across the service academies.”
Air Force confirmed to The Gazette that Pine was referring to all sports in which the service academies compete, not just football.
So, regardless of what happens elsewhere, Air Force might field teams.
But hope for others in the Mountain West for a fall season was wiped away Monday.
The decision affects the Colorado College women’s soccer program, which has been a member of the Mountain West since 2014.
Monument native Aidan Cullen, a Palmer Ridge graduate and defensive end at Colorado State, expressed the impact of that decision on social media.
“We have spent years, many of us over a decade, playing this game and eventually earning an opportunity to play at such a high level,” Cullen wrote on Twitter. “It’s a passion for hard work and challenges. Look how swiftly that can be taken away … for our seniors, and seniors nationwide, it is an uncertain time and my heart truly breaks for you … to everyone else. Imagine losing something you have spent thousands of hours working on with actual blood sweat and tears over a period of years to be ripped away from you. That’s the loss of football.”